Sunday, October 30, 2011

It's all about the chestnut!

In North America, when it comes to Autumn and sweet treats I  think things like pumpkin pie, apple pie  etc probably come to mind. Now that November is upon us, many will start to think of Christmas baking. But here in my part of Japan, leaves are just starting to turn, the temperature is in the low 20's (Celsius) or upper teens  and it really feels like fall. And that means chestnuts!  Japanese LOVE chestnuts!  So I gathered some photos from Yahoo shopping to show you how popular chestnut cakes/puddings/sweets are. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A community announcement. Only in Japan?

It is a cool rainy Saturday night (6:30 pm). I just heard some guy driving around in his car using a speaker to say something. I couldn't understand so I asked my husband about it. Apparently, he was saying things like "turn off the gas (heater/ stove) before you go to sleep", "don't leave things (like your laundry) outside", "when you are sleeping, don't leave your windows open", "look out for criminals" .  I thought maybe some guy had escaped from jail but no...this was just a community announcement.

Now, as a Canadian I think this is pretty funny and strange. My husband said "but there are a lot of old people in this community". Since when does old=stupid?  And as it was being said outside on a cool, rainy evening, chances are the "old" people didn't hear it as most won't have their windows open like we do and they will be watching TV or listening to  music, or cooking etc. And they might even be hard of hearing. I just don't get it.

I'm guessing this is "only in Japan", right?

Friday, October 28, 2011

I was surprised!!

On Mondays, I teach a really great class of high school girls. I have been teaching them for many years and we are quite close. I know all of their mothers and have taught their siblings  (and some have even worked for me). Well, wasn't I surprised when I walked into my class to see that they each made me a homemade treat for my birthday!

Mifuyu made me a homemade cheesecake topped with many candles in the shape of a heart. 

Saya made "pudding" which is kind of like creme caramel.

Sarina made an Italian dessert.

My boss brought in some hot tea and we had a little party.The food was delicious!! 

I have said this many times over the years but I truly am blessed. I am so lucky that I said yes to this job over 13 years ago.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gluten free grain free and delicious!!

Last month on one of the forums I read, a woman mentioned making these "buns" and then using the same recipe to make a pizza dough. She said both were out of this world. She then linked the recipe.  I just made some and while my pictures don't show how good these are...holy cow!! These are amazing. They are crusty on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside.

They are basically (I didn't know this before reading the information on the blog) a Brazilian cheese bread. Mixes can be bought under the "chebe" brand in the States. I don't have access to those here but I can get tapioca starch so I can make them.  Click here for the recipe .  If you need to eat gluten free and/or grain free then you really need to try it!  They are super easy to make and you can adjust the seasonings. I didn't add the chives or dill. Instead I added fresh rosemary and other Italian herbs and for my second batch I used a combo of olive oil and coconut oil as we didn't have any butter in the house (there is another butter shortage in Japan right now).

These can made in any size and today I cut one in half and put some ham in the middle-so good!  Next I'm going to make a pizza crust -I probably won't include the baking powder or less baking powder as I don't want it to get too puffy. 

Oh and if you are in Japan and need to buy tapioca starch, you won't find it in the supermarket (at least we can't) so you can buy it here-they have the best prices .

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Okinawan Food

Yesterday my student took me out for my birthday! She took me to "umisora" which means "sea sky" in Japanese.

It is an Okinawan restaurant. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous because all I knew about Okinawan food was that it can include goya (bitter gourd) which I hate because it is sooooo bitter.  But I was pleasantly surprised! 

My student made sure that she didn't order any goya.  In fact what she ordered was amazing!  Sorry but the pictures are pretty dark because the restaurant was really dark!

First we had this tofu dish-it was amazing!

Then we ordered "butakakuni" which is a delicious pork dish.

We also had this salad with noodles, veggies and seaweed.

We also had "onigiri" (rice balls) stuffed with "umeboshi" (pickled plums). These were very big and delicious. They came with "takuan" (pickled daikon) which were some of the best I've eaten.

Then my student asked me if I had ever tried "umibudo" which means "sea grapes". They are a kind of seaweed that looks like grapes. They were served cold with lemon slices. My student squeezed lemon juice on them. They were interesting-firm to the touch and when the little "grapes" burst in my mouth I could feel the slightly slimy seaweed feeling to them. It was cool and tasty!

 I'm so glad I got to try some new food and chat with my student!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I had to go to the police station!

What a day! 

It started out great. I went  to Hakata (the big city near me) to meet my friend Phee (hi Phee!). We met at starbucks. We talked and drank coffee, did a bit of shopping followed by more talking and more coffee. I took the train home and when I got to my station, I got in a taxi and went home. I paid the taxi and went upstairs to my apartment.

My hubby wanted to order pizza and I said no problem. He phoned the pizza place and ordered. I told him to get the money from my wallet. He went to my bag and looked around and asked me where my wallet was. I said in my bag or on the table in the hall. No. It wasn't there.

We searched everywhere in the apartment and I went outside to the parking lot to look. We couldn't find it. We called the taxi company and not only did they search the taxi I took but the taxi driver drove to our apartment so we could check it ourselves. No wallet.

I was very confused. I know I had it in the taxi so between the taxi in the parking lot of our apartment  building and our apartment itself, I lost my wallet.

My husband suggested that I go and check again in the parking lot. It was kind of pointless as our apartment building is small (6 apartments in the building) so the parking lot is very small and my wallet is big and orange-hard to miss. But I went. As I was going to go down the stairs I stopped because our nosy crazy lady neighbour was in her car and about to pull out. But suddenly I decided to go down the stairs and look around. She stopped backing out and asked me what I was doing. I told her about my wallet and she smiled and told me that the lady in 201 found it and asked her what she should do with it. Now...this is where culture differences come into play.

In case you didn't know this about Japan, your bicycle and umbrella have a good chance of being stolen but your wallet-nope. In this country, wallets, money found on the street-even the equivalent of a $10 bill- etc will be turned into the nearest police "box" ( mini mini police stations) with everything intact.

So, the lady in 201 finds a wallet in the small parking lot of her building. Instead of opening it and looking for ID, she gets in her car, drives to the police box and fills out paper work. The crazy lady  (I call her crazy because when she drinks she gets rude and fights with people-called my husband bad names once and threatened my assistant!) told me not to worry that it will show up at one of the many police boxes. She just didn't know which one the lady in 201 went to.

So...I go upstairs and tell my husband this. He phones a few of the police boxes and no one answers. So he phoned the main station, told them what happened. They said they would get back to us if they found it but they said maybe we could ask the lady in 201 where she took it. So....we went to 201 and the family was home but when we knocked, it got quiet and they ignored us. My husband, said through the door who we were and mentioned my wallet but no response. So we had to wait for the police to find it.

About an hour later the police called and told us where it was and suggested we go right away to pick it up. We called a taxi (thankfully my hubby had money) and  explained to the taxi driver, after he expressed surprise, why we wanted to go to the police box. What is funny is that when I mentioned I thought it was strange that the lady didn't open the wallet to see whose it was the driver said he wouldn't have opened it. So...this is a Japanese thing... I think. They are so worried about being accused of taking money from the wallet and not wanting to get involved that they would rather just take it to the police station.

So, we got to the police station and there was my wallet. The police told me that they had opened it and wrote down the contents and that if things weren't in the right place it was their doing and not the person who had turned it in (again, fear of being accused). My husband had to fill out some paper work and I had to sign it. And before we could leave we got a little bit of a lecture...that isn't quite the right word but the older police officer said (as if we weren't going to) we should thank the person who turned it in. And by "thank" it means give a present in Japanese. We explained that we were going to go and buy them something to say thanks. Apparently that was the right thing to say because he smiled at us.

I'm exhausted and feel like I have been run over by something big. I'm thrilled that I got my wallet back. But, am I the only one who would have opened the wallet to see whose it was? Well...if I could read Japanese that is! Still, if I was in Canada and I found a wallet in my apartment building's parking lot, I would have opened it to find an address and if it was in my building I would have returned it. If it wasn't in my building I would have figured out a way to return it.

Anyway, I have to get up in the morning to go to the mall to buy some senbei (Japanese rice crackers that will be in a beautiful box and gift wrapped) for the lady in 201 and the crazy neighbour lady (since she put my mind at ease by telling me about the lady in 201). 

Any thoughts on this? What would you do if you found a wallet in your building's  parking lot?

Edited to add: in case I sound otherwise-I'm thrilled to have it back and ultimately it wasn't much trouble to get it back. I guess it was just surprising to me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Finally it feels like fall!

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows how much I hate (that isn't actually a strong enough word) the summers in Japan. There is nothing quite like opening your door and feeling a very hot very wet blanket fall on top of you. I hate just standing and sweating.  I know some people love summer and really "blossom" in the heat and sun. Not me. I wilt and want to do nothing and go nowhere. We have to keep our typhoon shutters closed on our sliding glass doors to keep out the afternoon sun otherwise no amount of air conditioning will keep us comfortable. That means it starts feeling like we live in a cave.

I know that some foreigners in Japan survive without air conditioning but I'm just not one of them. I can't even look at food after a certain point if I'm not in air conditioning never mind cooking food . Thankfully my husband is the same. But it also means very expensive electricity bills and a feeling of "meh" just starts to feel normal.

Thankfully I don't feel "meh" anymore!!  It was glorious today!  It was about 25 Celsius with a nice cool breeze in the afternoon and it's nice and cool at night. I've started sleeping without air conditioning and I feel alive again!  I wore pants today for the first time since mid May. Taking a bath in my deep Japanese bathtub with the window open at night is heaven. The though of going out doesn't make me sad and we opened the shutters so it is nice and light in our apartment!

This weather also means, of course, fall/winter food is starting to appear.  Now we can buy "oden" at the "combini" (convenience store).  Oden is quite delicious (though it took me a few years to like it) but sadly, I'm pretty sure the stuff I can buy at the stores/restaurants isn't gluten free as the "dashi" (broth)  has soy sauce in it (and all soy sauce has wheat in it in Japan). I don't buy it often because of this but man it is yummy! Here are some pictures

The first shows what it looks like when you make it at home.

This is what you can buy from 7-11. This first one is "chikuwa". This is made of fish paste and molded into different shapes-it tastes much better than it sounds!

This is a slice of daikon
 This is "ganmodoki" . This is a tofu fritter made with vegetables, egg whites, tofu and sesame seeds.

This is my favorite! This is "mochikinchaku" . The outside "bag" is made from deep fried soybean curd. It is filled with "mochi" (Japanese rice cake) and mushrooms and pork. Delicious!
 These are "shirataki" noodles. These are made from konjac yam.

This is an egg! My hubby loves these!

I make this at home sometimes so I can make it gluten free. It is easy, filling and delicious! You can add other things of course! You eat these with spicy mustard.

The other good  thing about fall is that it is my birthday this Saturday! I will be 41. I  can't believe it to be honest. I came here at 27. Where the heck did the time go?!  I am hoping my husband and I will go out to my favorite yakiniku  restaurant for dinner!  And I'm really lucky this year because not only does my birthday fall on a Saturday but I have a 5 days off! So I'm off from Saturday to Wednesday and go back just for 2 days before the weekend again! 

Great weather. My birthday. 5 days off. Life is good!


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